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Agriculture > Spices > Vanilla (Vanilla planifolia)


Vanilla composition and vanillin content

The aroma/flavour produce vanillin during the process of curing. Around 85 % of the volatiles are vanillin (C8H8O3) and around 130 different chemical compounds that contribute to the nuances of the vanilla flavour have been identified in the fermented fruit; (phenols, phenol ether, alcohols, carbonyl compounds, acids, ester, lactones, aliphatic and aromatic carbon hydrates and heterocyclic compounds), Important aroma components are:

  • p-hydroxybenzaldehyde (up to 9%)
  • p-hydroxybenzyl methyl ether (1%)
  • Phenols
  • Alcohols
  • Lactones

Two stereoisomeric vitispiranes ,although only occurring in traces, also influence the aroma. Vanilla additionally contains 25 % sugar, 15 % fat, 15 to 30 % cellulose and 6 % minerals. Water content is unusually high (35 %).

The quite different fragrance of Tahiti vanilla is due to its additional contents of heliotropin,( 3,4-dioxymethyl benzaldehyde) and diacetyl butandione

Vanillin content by major producing countries
Country of Vanillin % Content
Madagascar 2.0
Reunion 2.0
Mexico 1.75
Caribbean 1.75
Tahiti 1.70
Indonesia 1.75
Sri Lanka 1.50
India 1.50

Source: Beth A Prevost, November 2003

A minimum vanillin content of 1.18 -2 % and a moisture content ranging between 20 to 22 % are preferred by most importers. Sources reveal, due to excess availability of poor quality beans in the international market, it has become increasingly difficult to attain the minimum standard of 2 % vanillin. As a result of this, the French Fraud Administration has lowered the accepted limit to 1.6 % in 2001.

Extraction and extracts

Natural vanillin (4-hydroxy-3-methozybenazaldehyde), produced from vanilla beans and other naturals is one of the most common flavour chemicals and is used in a broad range of flavours. It occurs in the vanilla bean at a level of 20 g per kg dry weight and is associated with many other compounds. Extracts are prepared by crushing the vanilla beans, extracting with an alcohol/ water mixture and separating the residue from the liquid. Variables such as extraction time and temperature affect the quality of the extract. Imitation vanilla extract is composed of natural and artificial flavourings, including vanillin.

Commercial extraction of vanilla flavour

Vanilla extract is a complex extract with more than 250 chemical components, prepared by an alcohol-water or any other permitted solvent system from cured vanilla beans and other naturals. Natural vanillin produced from vanilla beans and other naturals is expensive and its cost ranges between US $ 2000 to 3000 a kg. Vanilla extracts based on their concentration level cost anywhere between US $ 30 to 100 a kg and the supercritical CO2 extracts are even higher priced.

Various methods of extraction have been used to elicit the flavour from the cured bean. The concentration of an extract is noted by its 'fold'. A single fold of vanilla extract contains the extractable material from 13.35 oz of vanilla beans per gallon of solvent or 100g of extractable material per litre. Vanilla is generally extracted following two main extraction methods: percolation method and the oleoresin method. More recently, supercritical fluid extraction method is also used for natural vanillin extraction from vanilla beans, which uses carbon dioxide in the supercritical state to dissolve soluble material out of the plant matrix. Though the process produces better quality extract, but is not popularly used due to its high capital cost.

The percolation method consists of circulating a solvent, which is an ethanol/water solution in the range 35-50:65-50 (v/v), over and through the beans under vacuum. This process may take between 48 and 72 hours. By using this process, an approximately four fold strength vanillin can be obtained.

The oleoresin method consists of pulverising whole beans and then circulating ethanol over the beans under vacuum at about 45°C. The excess alcohol is removed by evaporation. This process takes about 8-9 days. However, by using the oleoresin process, an approximately 10-fold strength vanillin may be obtained. Commercially, natural vanillin is sold as a dilute ethanolic extract. Post-extraction processing involves clarification by centrifugation or filtration followed by aging of the extract for 1 year.

The supercritical fluid extraction is a two-step process, which uses carbon dioxide (CO2), above its critical temperature (31°C) and critical pressure (74 bar) for extraction. Feed is the ground solid, which is charged into the extractor and then fed with CO2 using a high pressure pump (100-350 bar). Extract laden CO2 is then sent to a separator (60-120 bar) via a pressure valve. The extract then precipitates in the separator at reduced temperature and pressure. The extract free CO2 stream is recycled to the extractor. The CO2 used as a solvent in the process is Generally Regarded as Safe (GRAS). The process can be used for extracting concentrates from several other spices and herbs. The extracts produced by this process are free from biological contaminants, have longer shelf life, have high potency of active components, and addresses major international concerns regarding residual solvent concentration and residual pesticide concentration.

Bulk of the world demand for vanilla concentrates from vanilla beans is met from extractors in USA, Western Europe and Japan. According to industry reports, some of the leaders in the industry are Neilson Massey (USA), International Flavours and Fragrances Ltd. (USA), Givaudon (Geneva), Firmenich (Geneva), Symrise (Germany), Quest (Holland), Danisco (Denmark), Mane (France), Takasago (Japan) and T. Hasegova (Japan).

Vanilla extracts are of various kinds. Solvent system used and percentage usage in extracting vanilla is controlled by Food and Drug Administration (FDA), USA but not the processing technology. As discussed earlier, vanilla from the cured beans is extracted using any of the physico-chemical extraction processes used for extraction of other natural flavours and oleoresin. The selection of procedure of extraction solely depends on the company's technical know-how and trade requirements.

In India, vanilla extraction is limited to a small quantity under the research and development requirements of few flavour companies and also at times to meet demand of the extractors in USA and Europe with whom they have technology collaborations and buyback arrangements. Very recently few new extractors have emerged such as Vanilco (Cochin), who are in the process of standardizing and branding Indian vanilla extracts.

Extract Standard of USA

Vanilla is the only flavour with a United States Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) standard of identity in the Code of Federal Regulations (21 CFR 169.175). Vanilla extract is the solution in aqueous ethyl alcohol of the sapid and odorous principles extractable from vanilla beans. Single-fold extract must contain extractive material from 13.35 oz of vanilla beans (at 25 % moisture) per gallon and at least 35 % alcohol by volume. Anything less than 35 % must be labelled "vanilla flavour." Optional ingredients include glycerine, corn syrup, sugar and propylene glycol.

The USFDA Regulations, CFR 169.3, have laid down specific standards for the vanilla:

  • "vanilla bean" means properly cured and dried fruit pods of Vanilla planifolia Andrews and Vanilla tahetensis Moore;
  • "unit weight of vanilla" means 283.85 gram of moisture free vanilla beans;
  • "fold" is the number of units of vanilla constituent per gallon;Single fold vanilla extract is made from 75 g of moisture free vanilla beans per 1000 ml; and
  • Three fold vanilla extract is made from 225 g of moisture free vanilla beans per 1000 ml.

Concentrated vanilla extract (or flavour) is made by removing some of the solvent usually by vacuum distillation until the desired concentration or "fold" is reached. Each fold must correspond to an original 13.35 oz of beans in the starting extract before concentration, so a two-fold would have the extractable of 26.7 oz of beans. Higher folds such as 10x or 20x are made by diluting oleoresins, which do not contain solvents. Distillation destroys some of the aromatic substances of vanilla flavour.

Labelling vanilla extract

Labelling of vanilla has always been very complex due to its multifarious uses. The following are different appellations used on labels of vanilla extract in the food industry:

Pure vanilla extract liquid.

  • It is made from vanilla beans, alcohol and water, with possibly sugar added. Must contain at least 35 % alcohol.

Vanilla-vanillin extract

  • (flavouring or powder) is a vanilla extract to which one ounce of vanillin has been added for every one fold of vanilla extract. It has an alcohol content of not less than 35 %. Flavouring contains less than 35 % alcohol. Powders contain one vanilla constituent (extractive matter from 13.35 oz of beans) plus 1 oz of vanillin in 8 Ibs of dry blend. These products are labelled as "natural and artificial flavour."

Vanilla absolute.

  • This is 7 to 13 times stronger than the good quality vanilla beans but lacks the well-rounded character. It is prepared directly from vanilla beans by extraction with aqueous alcohol followed by removal of the solvent, or it may be prepared from vanilla beans, which have previously been washed by hydrocarbon solvent to remove resinous part or resin removed vanilla oleoresin.

Vanilla tincture

  • This differs from the extract in alcohol content which according to use, is not less than 35 % and may be as high as 95 %.

Vanilla oleoresin

  • It is semisolid concentrate obtained by complete removal of the solvent from vanilla extract. The apparent flavour and aroma are inferior to that of the conventional vanilla extract.

Artificial vanilla extract.

  • Vanillin powder blended into water and alcohol.

Natural Vanilla Flavour.

  • A mix of pure vanilla extract and other natural substances extracted from natural sources other than the vanilla bean usually in a glycerine or a propylene glycol base - all types of vanilla and blends fall under this name.

Vanilla powder.

  • A mixture of ground vanilla beans and/or vanilla oleoresin combined with carbohydrate carriers and flow agents. A powder contains one vanilla constituent per 8 Ibs of product.

Artificial vanillin.

  • A cheaper artificial form (USP vanillin) is synthesized from guaiacol, a coal tar derivative; or produced from lignin, a by-product of the paper industry. The two sources have similar flavour profiles. Although synthetic vanillin is labelled "artificial" in the USA, it is considered "nature-identical" in Europe (chemically identical to the natural substance). Over 250 components contribute to the flavour profile of vanilla. This product simulates only 1 out of 250 flavours found in natural vanilla. Natural vanillin is present in vanilla beans at 2 % by weight.

Ethyl vanillin is a synthetic or "artificial" chemical that tastes the same as vanillin, but is about 2.5 times stronger. It can be used in imitation vanillas.

Vanilla flavouring.A m ix of pu re vanilla extract with imitation vanilla or synthetic substances (most commonly vanillin) but almost anything can appear under this label and ethyl alcohol content always less than 35 %.

• WONF (With other natural flavours) Vanilla made with natural products other than vanilla beans.

Identico natural vanilla (similar to WONF)

Imitation vanilla:

A mixture made from synthetic substances which imitates the vanilla smell and flavour. It often contains propylene glycol, which is also found in automotive anti-freeze and can leave a bitter aftertaste. Vanillin prepared by fermentation using a natural source and a natural process known as biotechnological vanillin can form up to 10 % by weight of vanillin in a natural vanilla aroma (Aromes, Ingredients Additifs, No 40). Furthermore, biotechnological vanillin is reported to be extremely difficult to detect or even almost undetectable when mixed with vanilla extract. French Regulations could lead to a breach of globally accepted standard if it allowed the use of the term "Arome Naturel Vanille" (Natural Vanilla Aroma) for aroma not extracted from only vanilla beans. France is, therefore, making a free interpretation of the European Regulation specifying that 'natural vanilla aroma' should contain vanilla bean extract exclusively or almost exclusively.

Forms of vanilla products

The ingredients used in making vanilla extracts are controlled by Food and Drug Administration, USA, but not the processing conditions or the equipments. Flavour companies use different alcohol/water ratios, temperature, time and equipment to make their own unique vanilla extracts. Types of vanilla traded in the market are:

  • Natural Vanilla Extract, minimum 35% ethyl alcohol
  • Natural and Artificial Vanilla Powder
  • Natural Vanilla Flavour, less than 35% alcohol or no alcohol
  • Artificial Vanilla Flavour
  • Natural Vanilla Powder
  • Artificial Vanilla Powder
  • Natural Vanilla Vanillin Extract
  • Natural Identical Vanilla Flavour
  • Natural Vanilla Vanillin Flavour
  • Natural Identical Vanilla Powder
  • Natural Vanilla Vanillin Powder
  • Single Fold Organic Vanilla Extract
  • Natural Concentrated Vanilla Extract; 10 fold to 20 fold
  • Three Fold Organic Vanilla Extract
  • Natural Concentrated Vanilla Flavour; 10 fold to 20 fold
  • 20 Fold Organic Vanilla Oleoresin
  • Natural and Artificial Vanilla Flavour
  • "Natural Flavour": Natural Vanilla and other Natural Flavour Ingredients

Sourcing and flavour characteristics

Many variables factor into the flavour characteristics of vanilla extract, including country of origin, crop year, curing techniques, storage conditions, lots, extraction method, and manufacturer. For many years, flavour profiles of vanilla were described by their origin. Today, profiles within the origins are changing. Vanilla preference is subjective. Vanilla users therefore, prefer to specify flavour profile they want rather than origin. Basic flavour characters used to describe vanilla are vanillin, resinous/leathery, woody, pruney, fruity, chocolate, smoky, and bourbon/rummy. A Bourbon vanilla is marked by moderate bourbon/rummy notes, slight to moderate resin, and slight vanillin, woody, pruney. While the flavour profile of high quality Indonesian vanilla is almost similar to Bourbon vanilla, a low quality Indonesian is moderately smoky, woody and leathery, with very slight vanillin and bourbon/rummy notes. Tahitian vanilla is characterized by moderate fruity, floral notes (heliotropin) with slight vanillin and bourbon/rummy notes.

The vanilla flavour used by the food industry especially by the ice cream industry largely takes into account the entire vanilla profile, as ice cream retains all flavour characteristics. Vanilla interacts with major ingredients of the ice cream base to impart a flavour not found in either the base or the extract alone. Extraction technique greatly affects finished vanilla profile. Other factors governing the vanilla extract profile are the vanilla species, origin, bean quality and curing, extraction and concentration of additional flavours.

According to industry reports vanilla produced from Madagascar (Bourbon) beans has been considered the industry's gold standard, but the quality of beans from the area has declined over the last two decades due to political and economic instability. In the declining economy, there was very little incentive for the farmers and curers to do a good job. Cultivators in Madagascar used to maintain a three or four year stock of vanilla beans, which continued to improve with age, but now they keep less than a one-year inventory. Vanillin levels in Madagascar beans have decreased up to 40 % in some cases. On the other hand, according to the sources, Indonesian vanilla quality has improved greatly over the last 20 years and the vanillin levels have equalled or surpassed that of Madagascar beans.

Application of Vanilla

Vanilla beans can be used in their whole or ground form; however, they are most commonly used for producing extracts, flavours, oleoresins and powders.

Most vanilla is used in the food industry in dairy products, followed by beverages, baked goods and confections etc. However, vanilla is often used as a background note or flavour enhancer to round out the flavour profiles of many products. The type of vanilla used depends on the product, the ingredients in the base formulation, and the desired flavour profile. The main application of natural vanilla is for flavouring ice creams and soft drinks. It is estimated that nearly 300 MT of vanilla beans are used in USA every year in the preparation of cola type drinks. It is also used as a kitchen spice for domestic use in USA.


  • Traditionally flavouring using vanilla was restricted to food industry but lately it has been widely used in flavouring tobacco, liquors, beverages and confections.
  • Flavour enhancer:The marriage of vanilla and chocolate has been a successful combination. Vanilla softens or rounds out harsh, bitter notes in most chocolate applications such as ice creams, cakes and syrups. In confections such as chocolate bars, powdered vanillin is used most often.
  • Fruits/sweet flavours: Vanilla is often used to enhance fruit flavours in many dairy and beverage applications. It rounds out many fruit flavours and takes off some of the tart edges. It is generally used as a background note in a variety of sweet and fruit flavours to round out the flavour profile.
  • Sweetness Potentiator:Vanilla enhances the sweetness perception of foods, especially in bakery products
  • Bitterness Maskant:Vanilla reduces burning and biting sensation developing due to bitterness in some food products

Dairy Products

Vanilla is the most popular flavouring for ice cream. The type or "category," of vanilla used determines how ice cream is labelled in the USA:

  • Category 1:Natural vanilla extract. Two-fold vanilla is commonly used. Ice cream products must be labelled as "vanilla ice cream."
  • Category 2:Vanilla-vanillin extract. This is considered natural and artificial (N&A), where the natural component is the characterizing flavour. Ice cream products must be labelled as "vanilla flavoured ice cream."
  • Category 3:Natural and artificial vanilla flavours or artificial vanilla flavours, where the artificial component predominates. Ice cream products must be labelled "artificially flavoured vanilla ice cream."

Bakery Products

Pure vanilla extract is generally not used for baking because the aromatic components of extracts begin to volatilize at about 280° to 300°F, a temperature that is readily attained in cookie baking. Cakes rarely exceed 210°F internally, so an extract or blends of extracts are used successfully. Vanilla-vanillin extracts and artificial flavours are generally recommended for baking applications. Natural and/or artificial flavours give food product designers the added benefit of blending vanilla with various flavour notes such as buttery, nutty and brown sugar.


In addition to the complex of spice and citrus notes, vanilla is an important flavour component in colas. Recent publications listed vanilla as well as 25 other flavour notes responsible for a cola flavour. Cream sodas, root beer, and some fruit beverages also contain vanilla. Vanillin or vanilla flavours are used in many alcoholic beverages, such as whiskeys, cordials and cocktails, to round out and smooth the harsh edges of the alcohol. In whiskey products, vanillin is one of the chemicals extracted from the oak barrels in which the products age. Generally, vanillin and flavourings, rather than vanilla extract, are used in alcohol-containing beverages because of the regulations governing this industry.

Savoury application

The potential use of vanilla extract in savoury applications is limited only by a developer's creativity. Vanilla is an exotic, complex flavour that is liked throughout the world. Food product designers have come up with several tastes from appetizers to desserts that incorporate vanilla extract and are continually discovering new uses for all ingredients.


Vanilla flavour is reported to reduce pain in women, reduces the startle reflex and augment calming.


Vanilla is widely used as flavouring agent in perfumes, candles, air fresheners, incense, household, baby and personal care products.


Vanilla is also used in psychological therapies. Sloane Kettering reported 63 % reduction in stress level in MRI patients. It is also reported to cure sexual dysfunction in men.

Other Uses

  • Apart from flavouring food products vanilla is widely used as an odour maskant for paints, industrial chemicals, rubber tires and plastics etc. It is also used as insect repellant.

Spices Board's efforts in vannila development

During the tenth plan period, the Spices Board proposes to support expansion of vanilla cultivation in 5000 hectares through marginal and small growers. An additional area of 10000 hectares will be covered in the private sector during the period. When the entire cropped area becomes yielding, it is expected that India will become the most important source for quality vanilla in the world. This is expected to add to the spice export revenues in a significant way, even at prices, considerably lower than at present. It is also expected that lower prices will boost substitution of synthetic vanillin by natural vanillin and increase demand. The main bottleneck in developing vanilla cultivation is the nonavailability of sufficient planting materials and the resultant high price thereof. To overcome this problem, the Board is implementing a programme for production of tissue cultured plantlets and rooted cuttings, which are supplied at subsidized rates to interested and needy small farmers. With a view to encourage healthy competition among vanilla growers, to improve both productivity and quality, Spices Board has instituted Vanilla Productivity Awards. Every year one first prize (Rs.25,OOO/- ,a citation and certificate) and two second prizes (Rs.15,OOO/-, a citation and certificate) are given to the winners. Qualified technical officers of the Development wing of the Board functioning in different spice growing areas will give necessary technical guidance to the farmers on various aspects of vanilla cultivation such as nursery maintenance, planting, aftercare, pollination, harvesting, processing, grading and marketing.

Spices Board is promoting production of organically produced vanilla as an intercrop. Board also imparts regular training to farmers and master trainers of State Agricultural departments and NGO's, covering all aspects of vanilla cultivation, processing and marketing.

The recent publication of Spices Board viz: Vanilla Status Paper 2003, Vanilla- The Prince of Spices and the Vanilla special editions of Spice India magazine in different languages are valuable literatures on vanilla and detail all the current knowledge about the subject.


The unusually high price (2003-04) is due to the adverse climatic conditions experienced in the main producing countries or quality problems in some other. The ban on the use of synthetic vanillin in certain food preparations by some developed countries have also pushed up prices in the present days of scarcity of natural vanillin.

The present high price is not sustainable as the global production is increasing every year. As production increase, the price is likely to come down which will help in the substitution of synthetic vanillin by natural vanillin. This will also contribute to increased demand and use of natural vanillin. It is the considered opinion of Spices Board that even if the price is reduced to one tenth of the 2003/04 levels, the cultivation of vanilla, particularly as an intercrop, will continue to be profitable.


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